Arkansas’ plan to rush the execution of 8 men over the course of 11 days in advance of the expiration of state supplies of a lethal injection drug is now in legal limbo.
A federal judge blocked the use of the drug, which a supplier says officials misleadingly obtained. The state’s highest court halted the execution of one of the first inmates who had been scheduled to die.
Early last month, Arkansas state governor Asa Hutchinson signed declarations to bring back capital punishment to the state for the first time since 2005 and execute 8 inmates between April 17 to April 27.
A staunch Republican, Hutchinson has spent years doggedly fighting against the legal difficulties that prevented capital punishment in the state.
“This action is necessary to fulfil the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims’ families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time,” said Hutchinson in a statement to the Associated Press. If Arkansas does nothing to stop the declaration, the men will be executed in pairs on 4 days during the 10-day period.
Like several other states, Arkansas uses a combination of potassium chloride, midazolam, and vecuronium bromide to carry out the executions. Solomon Graves, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, told CNN that the state’s supply of potassium chloride expired recently (although Hutchinson’s spokesperson said the state would have no difficulty acquiring more) while the supply of Midazolam is set to expire in April.
The rushed execution plan has drawn outrage from both activists and religious groups.
“This expiration date is directly linked to the state’s urgency to execute eight men in ten days,” said the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in a statement.
“The setting of four executions within 10 days is gruesome and brutal,” Catholic Sister Joan Pytlik told the Arkansas Catholic.
The men, all sentenced to death for capital murder between 1991 and 2000, are Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Eugene Johnson, Jack Harold Jones, Marcel W. Williams, Kenneth D. Williams, James F. McGehee.
This is the first time any state in the US executes so many men in such a short time period since 1977, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“No state has ever conducted eight executions over a 10-day period,” he said.
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